Irish Soda Bread

Irish Soda Bread

We make our own bread in the Budget Bounty household. It started out as a budgetary mechanism, but now we’ve got ourselves into a groove and it’s become a thing.

We just use a purchased bread mix and add bits to it, like ground flaxseeds or buckwheat. We buy a 5 kg bag, decant most of it into a food grade sealed bucket and put a kilogram or so into a smaller container in the pantry. When this smaller container is empty, it is refilled from the bucket by The Boy.

So, you can imagine my surprise when my request for the smaller container to be refilled from the bucket was answered with the words, “It’s empty.”

Ahem.

I’m still at a loss as to how the empty bucket wasn’t noted at the time it was emptied, so that it could be refilled before we ran out.

Anyway, moving on.

We needed bread. About this time, I remembered making Irish Soda Bread several lifetimes ago and that it had been well received – so I thought I’d give it a shot on The Boy.

It’s a very scone-like bread (half way to a damper) that toasts well and lets one consider one’s farm-dwelling ancestry a generation or two back. It’s also a great introduction to bread-making for those who are afraid of using yeast.

Ahem.

Unfortunately, its density means that it isn’t something that diabetics will be wanting to consume on a regular basis, but it is very yummy.

It’s a very simple recipe using basically plain flour, baking soda and buttermilk. We had all of these things.

So, into a largish bowl 800g of plain flour was poured. I had a bit of wholemeal plain flour in a jar, so I added it first and then made up the weight with some regular stuff.

It was all sifted on the way through, along with some salt and some baking soda. The bran from the wholemeal was added after.

The flours were sifted.

The flours were sifted.

I also added a tablespoon or so of golden flax seeds. Because I like them.

Flax seeds rock

Flax seeds rock

It was all stirred together thoroughly, a well was made in the middle, and a pint of buttermilk was added. Then it was mixed together with a heavy spatula (or I could have used a wooden spoon) until it came together as a firm dough. My bread needed more liquid, so I just added splashes of milk until I got that result. It’s important not to be too heavy-handed with this. It is a lot like scones, in that light handling will result in a lighter bread.

Then it was tipped out onto a lightly floured surface.

Turn it out onto a floured surface.

Turn it out onto a floured surface.

Then, with a light touch, I shaped it into a big ball – kneading it gently until it was only just smooth.

Remember it's rustic. Alton says people pay extra for that...

Remember it’s rustic. Alton says people pay extra for that…

A tray was sprayed with cooking oil, the loaf was placed smack dab in the centre of it and brushed with a little milk. Then, following tradition, a cross was cut in the centre. This enables the bread to rise in such a way that the loaf maintains its shape on the way.

Ready for the oven.

Ready for the oven.

Then it was all baked in a moderate oven for just on an hour.

The same bread, now baked.

The same bread, now baked.

It really is that simple. Measure your flour, add your wet stuff and bake.

Let it cool on a rack and then treat as you would any other bread. Ours kept in the bread box in the pantry for 5 days after baking.

Yum!

Yum!

Once life is a little more settled (probably after we move) I’m intending to try experimenting with different flours and additives. I think this would be awesome with some rolled oats added in, just as a f’r’instance.

If you’ve never made bread from scratch before, then please give this a try and then let me know how you go. 🙂

Irish Soda Bread

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

800g plain (All Purpose) flour. You may use a combination of different flours if you wish.

1 tsp salt

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)

600 ml  buttermilk

milk to glaze

Method

Heat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF.

Sift the flour, salt and baking soda together into a large bowl, adding back any bran left in the sieve. Mix well.

Make a well in the centre and add the buttermilk. Stir lightly and quickly until a firm dough forms. If loose flour is still evident, simply add milk a tablespoon or two at a time until it is all incorporated.

Turn onto a lightly floured surface and lightly knead and shape into a smooth round about 20 cm across.

Place onto a lightly greased tray.

Cut a cross about 1 cm (½ inch) deep into the top of the loaf.

Brush the surface of the bread with a little milk. This will remove excess flour and help the bread to get a lovely golden colour.

Bake for an hour, testing after 50 minutes. Bread is done when a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Lift onto a wire rack to cool.

 

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How to line the base of a springform tin.

I often feel that the hardest parts of making a cheesecake are:

  1. lining the tin, and
  2. getting the cake out of the base.

Strangely these two things are intimately linked. Whodathunkit?

This used to frustrate me terribly until a chef friend casually mentioned the workaround.

(Hi Kath! *waves frantically*) I intend to share it with you here.

This is a springform tin.

A springform tin

A springform tin

If you have a look at the base of a spring form tin it will look something like this.

See the lip?

See the lip?

That there raised edge is the reason you have such trouble getting the cake off the base and onto your serving platter.

Try turning it over.

See the difference?

See the difference?

See how it’s all opposite to the other side? (She asked, stating the bleeding obvious…)

This is the side you want to be putting your cake onto to bake, that way it can just slide right off without getting caught on the lip.

To make this even easier, it helps to cover the base with baking paper.

Tear off a piece that’s a fair bit larger than the base. This will give you room for tearing bits off in the ensuing struggle…

Take a piece of baking paper

Take a piece of baking paper.

Now place your base on it with the raised surface downwards. Fold the edges of the paper over.

Wrap your base up.

Wrap your base up.

It doesn’t have to be perfect. Now turn it over and place it into the ring of the cake tin. It’s tempting to simply place the ring over the base and tighten it – but this will not work.

Trust me on this.  Save yourself the heart-wrenching sobs and just lower it into the tin, okay?

Lower the base into the tin.

It’s okay. Just take deep breaths.

Push it down as far as it will go and tighten the ring. You will think you have failed miserably because it will look a bit like this.

Turn the whole thing over.

It will look something like this.

It will look something like this.

Now tug on the edges of the paper to pull the sheet as flat as you can. Take it slowly, but don’t be afraid to tug firmly. The base will begin to straighten out. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but you don’t want lots of loose paper and folds across the base either.

See the difference?

See the difference?

Push the base firmly down in the ring to ensure it is locked in place. Leave the paper folded under the tin, this will make it easier to remove once cooked. Remember your tin is now raised slightly because the lip of the base is pointing downwards, this will give you a space for the paper to gather without affecting how level the tin sits in the oven.

Now start baking your cake.

If you are using a bain marie (dish of water) to make your cake, then simply create a shell out of one piece of aluminium foil to protect the paper and guard against leaks.

If you are not using a bain marie, then place the cake tin on another baking tray to make it easier to handle.

Most recipes call for the cake to be chilled for a period of time. Leave the cake in the tin while it is first chilling in the refrigerator.

When it is time to remove it from the tin fold out the paper from under it until it is as flat as possible. Now release the spring on the ring and lift it away.

The paper that extends from around the cake will give you the means to simply slide it off the base with complete ease.

Tug on the paper to remove from the base.

Tug on the paper to remove from the base.

Then place it close to the edge of a cooling rack. Pull the paper straight down at a right angle until the side of the cake is over the edge of the rack and the paper is clear.

You should be able to insert a long spatula between the paper and the cake and lift it free. Place on platter, decorate if you wish and serve.

Now you can take it to someone else’s place and know that you will have the base of your springform tin the next time you use it…

You’re welcome.

Serve and enjoy.

Serve and enjoy.

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Christmas biscotti platter

Christmas is the time of year I start baking hard, thick, crunchy, chunky, seemingly inedible biscuits and giving large amounts of them to my friends.

No. I’m not mad.

Christmas biscotti platter

Christmas biscotti platter

Biscotti is an Italian word that shows the origin of the English word ‘biscuit.’ Basically it means cooked twice, like rusks or zwieback (also meaning cooked twice), which is why the American use of the word continues to confuse me…

Moving on from etymology, these things are wonderful. Really truly.

They started out in the dim, dark pages of history as a way of making food travel-proof. Dry out your bread and it won’t go mouldy. Simple. Think, ships’ biscuits and Horatio Hornblower. Which means you can make them now and happily eat them in a month’s time.

Biscotti came into my life about 8 years ago and, from then on, I just wanted to share the joy.

A thick, sticky dough is mixed, shaped into logs, baked in a moderately hot oven for a bit, allowed to cool, cut into thick slices (about ½ an inch thick), baked in a slightly cooler oven for a second time until thoroughly dried out and then kept in an air-tight container until dunked into a warm beverage – usually coffee, but tea and hot chocolate rock too – and then delighted in tremendously.

first baking...

first baking…

Italian friends tell me that they also work well dipped in a glass of vin santo …

They usually contain nuts, like whole blanched almonds, hazelnuts or pistachios, dried fruit, like cranberries and, sometimes, coconut. They are also quite low in fat as most recipes contain neither butter nor oil. They do contain lots of flour and quite a bit of sugar though, so don’t go thinking of them as anything resembling a health food.

That said, a biscotto is not something you would inhale in the way you might a sweet biscuit or cookie, so you are less likely to start scoffing them down in large quantities. One will usually be sufficient.

There are endless variations. It all depends on your imagination and your knife.

To make biscotti you need a good, serrated knife.

Now, that's a knife...

Now, that’s a knife…

If you don’t have one, then tears will be the inevitable outcome. I speak from experience.

You are baking something so that it will be crunchy; if you then try slicing that it will simply disintegrate into (delicious) crumbs under your blade. That is bad.

A serrated knife is the only thing that will save your biscuits and your sanity.

Slicing biscotti

Slicing biscotti

Get one. That is all.

Once your biscotti are thoroughly baked and cooled, they will keep for Aeons in an airtight container.

Really!

Well, quite a number of weeks anyway.

Which is why they make such great Christmas gifts.

I figure that most of the people I know already have all the ‘stuff’ they could possibly need and don’t really need to find the space for yet another knick knack they don’t really like. Probably they will be overloaded with sweet biscuits/cookies, cakes and chocolates as well.

Managing mass biscotti baking like this on a budget can be quite doable. The flour and sugar is something that I already have in store, but I buy a bit extra. Then, in the months leading up to baking, I add one packet of special ingredients to my shopping each fortnight. A packet of blanched almonds one week, a packet of crystallised ginger the next shopping week and so forth. Then, in the week before I start to bake, I buy 2 dozen eggs and I’m set to go.

Second baking

Second baking

I make a different batch (recipe) of biscotti for each person on my Christmas run. So, if I’m wanting to give them to 5 different people, I make 5 different types of biscotti. Then I divvy them up, wrap in cellophane and deliver on Christmas Eve or roundabouts.

Because they store so well, I can easily make a different batch each day for a week instead of having one huge baking day. They all go into a large Tupperware Cake Taker until it’s time for them to leave the premises.

Big box of bikkies

Big box of bikkies

They are easy to mix and shape, but take a lot of time to bake. If you are suffering through one of the sweltering hot versions of the Australian Christmas Season, then do this late at night with all the doors and windows open.

I’ve recently moved away from my friends and can’t give them biscotti this year, so I shall share some of the recipes with them on here instead. 😥

There will be quite a few biscotti posts to come….

Biscotti recipes on Budget Bounty:
Caraway and Lemon Biscotti
Coconut Almond Biscotti
Orange Ginger Biscotti